Inner meanness

Subtitled: In which I prove that (1) I am human, (2) I am not particularly Buddha-like in thought or action and (3) appearances are deceptive.

I am often told that I am very pleasant looking. People tell me I look “nice.” Apparently my general expression, when I am not interacting with others, is one that is calm and happy looking. Once a stranger even snarled into my face, “What the F*CK are YOU so happy about?!” (After a pause, I responded, “I’m happy I’m not you!”)

A few weeks ago I was reading an article in which the opinion writer urged everybody to free their inner meanness. I don’t particularly need urging in that respect. And not to be rude or anything, but I doubt that you all need any urging either. What I need is help reining that bad boy in. But there are other times when I can’t decide whether or not what I’ve done is mean, hilarious, justifiable or all of the above.

Today I went to the store. I hate going to the store. So many microaggressions.

I was rolling my cart down the aisle when I saw another person coming from another direction. She stopped in the middle of the aisle with her cart parked diagonally, so there was no way I could pass. I said “Excuse me,” and she moved her cart approximately an inch. Then she proceeded to stand there and look at items on the shelves.

So I said, “Excuse me,” again and when she didn’t move, I rammed my cart through the too-narrow space. The two carts colliding made a satisfying CRASH! and visibly scared the beejeebers out of the woman.

I maniacally continued to shove my cart, with many enjoyable crashing and clanging sound effects. By this time the woman had backed completely away from me and said, “C’mon, hold on for a minute …” but she said it very timidly and without meeting my crazed eyes.

I guess I could have cut the woman some slack, but it felt like some kind of petty little power play. Like she was going to move when she was good and ready to move, and not a second before. What the heck is up with that?

This kind of behavior seems all too common. Why do people make you say “Excuse me” when they know what the polite thing to do is? Riding the commuter train, I said “Excuse me” to a woman because I wanted her to move her purse and coat off the three other seats she was hogging. She wouldn’t respond. I repeated myself, and she finally looked up. And then I said, “Please move your stuff.”

A couple of days in a row this happened, and the fourth day I said “Excuse me,” and sat on her purse. On the fifth day she snatched her stuff when she saw me coming. By the middle of the next week she’d changed train cars. I was halfway tempted to switch train cars too, but restrained myself. (I am occasionally capable of restraint. Just don’t piss me off.)

Anyway, afterwards I can never decide whether I feel great or whether I feel guilty. With this most recent incident I did think about a number of other things. I was thinking about how I’ve often heard people of color who are not black talk about the fear that blacks generate in whites. About how Asian Americans sometimes say the problem is that white people aren’t afraid of Asians. About how race and gender play a part in assumptions, and about how having an appearance of “niceness” sometimes means other people will be assholes just because they think it’s safe.

But I was also thinking about not being afraid of repercussions. I once had a little incident with a white man in which it was his poor fortune to later find out that I held a job position over him at the same company. He never expected it, and he didn’t last long. But I was also thinking about how I didn’t worry for a second whether that woman would ever be in a position of power over me. And I wondered if I would have acted differently if the person had looked nice.

One thought on “Inner meanness

  1. I was about to say you have guts; that I could never do these things (sit on purses, drive a bumper cart). I will go out of my way to avoid a conflict. Then I remembered that I seldom face these scenarios so haven’t had to develop my inner meanie (except on my family).

    A Latina friend who had an urban address on her checks was once asked what she was doing in a suburban store, when trying to write a check. She had crossed an invisible apartheid line. She was also regularly followed by store clerks, yet invisible to other shoppers. Funny how racism works. Or not.

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